Taking Care of Babies
Taking Care of Babies

Taking Care of Babies

So you’ve set up your brooder and brought home your baby chicks…what next!? Baby chicks are actually very easy to care for, but you do need to know a bit about their particular needs in order to keep them healthy! First, chicks need heat and company. God gave them the natural instinct to want to hide under their mama and snuggle with their siblings. If your chicks are being raised by a broody mama hen you can let her worry about temperatures. If, however, you are acting as mama, you need to make sure the chicks have a heating plate or heat lamp and keep the temperature range from 95-100 for the first couple weeks, dropping it by 5 degrees in each subsequent week.

When you set up the heat source you also need to give the chicks room to move away from it, in case they become too hot. I recently found this adorable little brooder house with a small heat lamp inside (see the following pictures)! The chicks have plenty of room to move around inside it, or walk out if they’re too hot! You can set it up inside a larger container or rodent-proofed dog crate, as described in How to Set up Your Brooder.

Since chicks need company also make sure you have at least 2 chicks in your brood. I recommend 3 or more, but 2 works. Chickens that grow up together form strong bonds and tend to remain besties for their whole lives! It’s super cute!

Heat and company are the first two needs for baby chicks. Initially they don’t need anything else, believe it or not! God’s design is really pretty amazing, because the chicks absorb their egg yolk before hatching, and nutrients from the yolk sustain them for the first day or two after hatch. Once the babies are dry and fluffy they may start searching for something to peck at. Set up their food and water close to the heating plate, so that it is easily accessible to the wobbly little fluff balls. I recommend nipple waterers, because they are way less messy (chicks will poop in their other waterers and get shavings and food in them). It’s also a good idea to dip their little beaks in the water, so they know where to find it! When babies are tiny I put their food in a flat dish of some sort, but as they grow I recommend feeders that have legs! It helps reduce the amount of feed that they waste if the food is up off the floor a bit!

There is some debate over whether to use medicated or unmedicated chick food. I prefer medicated feed, because it helps keep the chicks from getting sick from coccidia, which can kill them. The medicated feed blocks chicks’ systems from absorbing certain vitamins, so it’s a good idea to also supplement their water with electrolytes and probiotics. Electrolytes and probiotics are a MUST HAVE if you are raising silkie chicks, by the way! Those little babies are more sensitive than other chicks. I’ve given you a link for medicated Purina Start and Grow, but it is less expensive at Tractor Supply Co.

Silkies make GREAT mamas! How cute is Mars with her chick!? I set up the brooder with a single nesting box, instead of a heat plate, if my chicks are being raised by a mama. Although the mama will defend her babies from other chickens, it’s still a good idea to use a brooder to keep them safe.

As your babies grow you will notice that they become very messy eaters, throwing woodchips, food, and poop all over their brooder. You will need to change out their water daily or every other day to keep it clean. Also make sure to trade out the wood chips frequently to reduce the chicks’ exposure to disease and pests, like mites. I raise their water off the floor of the brooder as they get bigger, as well, to keep it clean longer (set it on a cement block or something like that ). If you are keeping your babies in a brooder for a couple of months you may also want to add some perches for them to sit on (I use zip ties to attach small tree branches to the brooder…keep it simple!). Chickens LOVE to perch! I will share another post with you about how to transition babies into your larger flock, but hopefully this is enough information to get you started for now! Happy chickening and please feel free to ask questions! See the following for tips on helping a sluggish chick.

Sluggish Chick Troubleshooting Notes: If you have a sluggish chick there can be a few different reasons. The chick may just be cold, so try warming it up. I’ve also had a lot of success reviving sluggish chicks by feeding them a paste of chick feed, water, sugar, probiotics, and electrolytes. If they aren’t eating on their own you may need to feed them. Add extra water to the paste so that it becomes very loose and dip their little beak in it periodically. Your chick may also have Coccidiosis, even if you’re using medicated feed. The medicated feed helps prevent infection, but not entirely. Talk to your vet about giving the sick chick Corid.

Another possible cause for an ailing chick is mites or lice. Clean out their brooder and sprinkle it with diatomaceous earth or barnyard lime. For older chicks you can sprinkle them with miticide from a feed store. For younger chicks (under 3 weeks old) rub diatomaceous earth or barnyard lime. into their down. You may need to bathe them, but if so make sure to use warm water and keep them warm while drying!